April 01, 2005

A Ffourth ffrom Fforde

Have you ever had that feeling when you're starting a new book that you almost don't want to start it because it's too good? You just have to savour the moment of opening it – put it off perhaps – because all too soon you'll have read it, and it will be over. That first reading can never happen again, and no matter how much you may get from a second, third, fourth reading, you can never get the suspense, the exploration of the unknown, and the sheer feeling of "It's 3am but I can't put this thing down! I need to know what happens!!!!" ever again.

At the minute, I'm putting off beginning the fourth novel by Jasper Fforde, and probably the last in the Thursday Next serise, entitled Something Rotten.
Honestly, for any fiction fan out there, I cannot urge you strongly enough to read these books! Thursday Next is a Literary detective in an alternate 1985, where literature has a much higher standing, Dodos have been re-engineered, and are now common household pets, and the Crimean War is still going on. Thursday's story begins in The Eyre Affair, when the despicable Acheron Hades has stolen the manuscript of Jane Eyre, and with the use of the Prose Portal (creation of Thursday's inventor uncle, Mycroft) is holding Jane herself to ransom. Meanwhile, the devious Jack Schitt, member of the evil Goliath corporation, wants to get his hands on the Prose Portal himself.
Thursday's Adventures continue in Lost in a Good Book and The Well of Lost Plots, where the reader is introduced to the crazy world of Jurisfiction - the police force inside fiction, and a whole host of literary characters.

What makes Fforde stand apart from the crowd is his sheer inventiveness – sepecially when it comes to names. I need only reel off a few – Thursday Next, Braxton Hicks, agents Kannon and Phodder, and the trully unbeatable Jack Schitt, and his brother Brik Schitt-Hawse. But apart from that, the alternative 1985 he creates is so vibrant, and not too hard to imagine. The similarities to our own world are as noticable as the differences, and I especially love picking out the tiny side references to things that you might miss, such as some building being built during "the occupation".
Fans of literature of any kind will also appreciate that Fforde knows where he's coming from as well. I could almost call his work meta-fictional, featuring as it does frequent references to the entire corpus of English Literature. Most major authors are in there at some point or another, often as breif asides, but some, like Shakspeare, feature quite substantially (with a title like the fourth book's, could you expect anything else?) Fforde's playful nods to all that has gone before makes the reader feel like they are sharing in the biggest in-joke ever. The biggest mistake in fiction of this sort would be to become too self-conscious, but it's a mistake Fforde easily avoids, and instead of pretentious literary elitism, his books read like that 'novel' one of your mates penned at school and passed round in class, with all of your friends as featuring characters. Except twelve zillion times better.

It's no use. I can't put it off any longer. I have to read Something Rotten right now…


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